towpath/ racism / not fitting in

050210-1023(001)Originally I started this blog as a sort of notepad to explore the Lagan towpath, a  path that ran very close to our last house. It is also the reason I ended up calling the blog ‘Canal ways’.

We had moved to Lambeg and it was a 40min walk on the towpath into Lisburn. I did the walk at some point most weeks and tried to look out for points of interest, stuff that might inspire me or noting things that came into my mind as I walked along. It was going to be a sort of art project or platform for other things, perhaps I would get a few more bird songs.

Now that I’ve moved away for a year I can say that I generally found it a dark and oppressive walk and as a consequence found it hard to find inspiration. The way the hawthorns hang over blocking out the sunlight, the green of everything and the stillness of the canal water which barely moved. The smell of the water treatment plant at Hilden on summer days, the derelict linen thread factories, the occasional rat running across your path. Even the moorhens and mallards seemed a bit menacing.

I’m not saying that the path was evil, but when I walked  along it felt to me like a heavy atmosphere hung over the place, like one of those haunted landscapes described by Tolkien in Lord of the Rings. Perhaps it was just me projecting my depression and heavy heart on the area.

I  thought I had finished my thoughts about the towpath, but then I heard about an African man suffering a racist attack on  Saturday afternoon .
How can 3 lads just decide to attack someone out for walk? Why the violence?
Perhaps it is heightened by the fact that just before we moved an African gentleman moved into the house beside us. We chatted in the brief time we lived beside each other, he cooked me a lunch that he considered ‘mild’ yet nearly made me never want to eat food again – it was so hot! . He seemed out of place after 3 years of living in town that had very few Africans. That makes we wonder how he feels if he is still there. The last minister in our church (from Sierra Leone) describes in his book how he nearly died on Botanic Avenue:-

‘I never knew how black I was when I lived in Africa. Living with mostly black people around me, it was impossible to know this. Then one day in Belfast, surrounded with white people everywhere, I suddenly discovered that I was very black. Ireland in those days hard very few non-white people and still fewer black people. I still remember one day when I was nearly knocked over by a car as I tried to cross University Road to meet the first black person I had seen since I arrived in Belfast. This was in the university area. On getting to this man, I vigorously embraced him as I greeted him….I released him from my smothering embrace and explained that he was the first black person I hard met since I arrived in Belfast about six months earlier. I went on to tell him how lonely and alone I had been as a result’
Between Africa and the West, Sahr John Yambasu

My personal experience as white man in Lisburn and Belfast was that I was watched merely for looking scruffy and bearded. Every time I went into Eason’s the security man would follow me. H noticed it as well so I’m not making it up. I got tired of it.
I was walking up the Castlereagh Road once and someone eandomly yelled out of a moving van ‘Get your hair cut‘. Perhaps not a big deal but it annoyed me because it’s just typical of my experience growing up in Northern Ireland.
I can hear relatives saying the same thing, and it wasn’t a joke, they seemed to take a bushy beard or long hair as something that conveyed the wrong sort of behaviour. There was something not right about it, it was a sign that the big bad world of  sinfulness was knocking  the door,  it was a threat to norms which they considered as good norms, good Protestant British norms.

The first week I move to Lisburn I decided that I would get my hair cut and went into a barbers. She basically took the piss out of me in the same sneery way, as if a man with hair longer than 0.7mm is the village idiot. Basically looking a certain way in certain places is something that draws out inner scorn with very little effort.

So I’m imagining what it’s like to be an African around some parts of Belfast. If someone takes the time to yell at me out a van window whilst driving down the Castlereagh Rd just because my hair is long are they going to let someone from say Jamaica pass by without passing comment?

Of course racism is down here as well.

One morning on the way to church I watched a group of men standing outside the hotel beside our church. They watched one of our African ladies walking into the church building then one of them turned to his friends and did a stupid, sneery face. Something about this godly lady walking into a church building on a Sunday morning seemed worthy of a sneer. Was she somehow a threat to that group of grown men?

Then there are some of the election results across Europe and Italian fans turning up at training to hurl abuse at Mario Balotelli, or monkey chants from football supporters.

And of course racism or fear of the other is in my heart. I could give a list of people that I wouldn’t particularly want to live beside. Are all those people kicking up stick about Nigel Farage and his comments about not wanting to live beside say Romanians being honest about their tolerance levels? If  they are they are better people than me because there is fear or contempt for other ethnic groups lingering inside me, which doesn’t make it right of course, but that is the truth.

So I’m not sure what I’m trying to say here other than racism/sectarianism/ is a terrible thing and what are we, or more what am I going to do about it?

 

 

New Scheme

This is a draft of my newly accredited scheme (only in my head) for shops that consistently display terrible standards of customer service. I didn’t really like the word ‘boors’but couldn’t think of anything else that would rhyme with floor. The sticker is to be placed on the doors of shops, coffee shops, etc.
 
.boors

Help me help you! I don’t want fake niceness or not being given my own space ‘Can I help you?Well just give us a shout if you need anything?‘ and I don’t think the customer is always right either, but just a basic bit of banter or a thanks very much or basic bit of interaction would be nice even once in a while.

how can we sing our song in a strange land?

I has been on a bit of a downer this week after spending last week in and around Dublin.

There are many reasons why I feel down but the main one is that just don’t feel as creative here in Belfast-Lisburn, I just don’t feel as inspired and free to make things or see new possibilities and this gets me down. I try drawing but don’t want to experiment and then get stuck in a rut, a bad rut. I hate the stuff I do and want to rip it up (which I nearly did yesterday afternoon).
I try writing a song but can’t get past the first two lines.

That is not meant to be a slight on either Lisburn-Belfast, I guess you can’t help who you love. You can try and give it a go, a sort of arranged marriage of sorts but it might be a unhappy arranged marriage at that.

The light, colours, angles, are all wrong. Nothing seems to fit properly and the shadows creep in all the wrong corners.  Everything is green and overhangs the pavement.

closing up shop

I’m reading through my blog again looking for leads and ideas. I saw a post from the 25th July 2010 when I listed all the shops on the main shopping street of Lisburn. The shops with a line through it are the shops that have closed in the two years since.

1  River Island
2  Burton
3  Specsavers
4  The Body Shop
5  Nationwide
6  The Mortage Shop
7  Edinburgh Wool Mill
8  Green’s
9  Daltons
10 Birthdays
11 Thorntons
12 Hedleys
13 Superdrug
14 B&M Bargains
15 H Samuel
16 Boots
17 Barclays
18 O2
19 Jessops
20 Topshop
21 Eason
22 Cafe Koko
23 Waterstones
24 Bon Marche
25 Holland & Barretts
26 Santander
27 Mothercare
28 Ulsterbank
29 Priceless Shoes
30 Ulster Star
31 Orange
32 Game
33 Thomas Cook
34 Halifax
35 Yellow Door

So almost 1/6th of the shops present have closed in little over 2 yrs.

Jesus and beef shin

The butcher looked genuinely happy to see me and kept on calling me ‘Sir‘.
Is that all sir?’ he said.
I started laughing and said ‘I’m not used to people calling me sir‘ and the butcher said that old habits are hard to break and that you would have got a slap on the head if you didn’t call people sir years ago.

I told him that I hadn’t noticed the butcher before and he said that there actually used to be another one in the village and then I thought I’d say the word ‘Tesco’ just to see what would happen and he said ‘Tesco? They just do whatever they want..’

I had a similar experience from my nearest butcher who said ‘Tesco? If they were running the country I’d vote for them tomorrow…but they’re hoods‘ ….or words to that effect.

The butcher I was talking to today was only too eager to help but this  made me sad because you got a sense that he was eager to make the most of every new customer that comes through the door and make sure it counts purely to make sure the business survives.
I’m glad he was nice but I hate to think that he’s having to be extra, extra nice and helpful because supermarkets have come in and taken his custom.
Maybe that is the law of business, the law of competition and fighting for customer share etc etc but it seems more like the powerful against the weak and it doesn’t seem to be particularly helpful for community as the people who can’t compete get left behind and forgotten about, and what is Christian about that?
Suddenly the street is boarded up and all the economic life has shifted to the other side of town, freedom and choice have disappeared from your town or village and another big box appears near a roundabout a few miles away.
G.K. Chesterton had this to say about big shops

The truth is that the monopolists’ shops are really very convenient–to the monopolist. They have all the advantage of concentrating business as they concentrate wealth, in fewer and fewer of the citizens. Their wealth sometimes permits them to pay tolerable wages; their wealth also permits them to buy up better businesses and advertise worse goods. But that their own goods are better nobody has ever even begun to show; and most of us
know any number of concrete cases where they are definitely worse.

All I’m saying is that although I only popped into this particular butcher for the first time today I care for him or worry about what will happen if the local supermarkets continue to drain business.
I would hate to think that because I chose to buy my meat in a supermarket (that already makes billions of pounds in profit per year) he would be struggling to make a living or make it work.

(rant coming…
Which makes me wonder why our local politicians think it’s a particularly good idea to charge extra for parking in towns. If you’re having a revenue shortfall don’t charge people for parking in their town centre while allowing planning permission for huge stores on the outskirts of town which don’t charge parking. Tax the huge stores per parking space per year if you are going to charge people for parking in a town centre or else don’t charge people for people for parking in town centres. Fair is fair.
There are few butchers in Lisburn city centre and it is no surprise because why would you circle around looking for a car parking space,
put in 30 or 40p,
walk 5mins to get to the butcher,
and then carry your meat back before the traffic warden snares you for being a few minutes late?
Why would someone be bothered when they could  just pop up to Tesco, park for free and run in and run out? )